On Headaches and Fibromyalgia, Part 2

Human Brain X-Ray, iStockphoto.comIn my last post, On Headaches, Gluten, and Fibromyalgia, Part 1, I talked about the black hole of migraines I lived in during April and May.

In that article, I wrote about the things I’ve done in the past, and continue to do, to keep my headaches at bay. These things have worked really well for almost six years.

Over the past three months, I’ve been talking with my doctors about this particular round of headaches:

  • Why am I dealing with these now? I’ve been basically fine for six years.
  • What do I think triggered these migraines?
  • What did I do before to keep my migraines at bay? Do I think that stopped working or is this a special case?
  • Is there something else going on right now that we’re missing?

If you are suffering from chronic headaches and migraines, I suggest checking out part 1 for some ideas that might help.

So what happened this time?

I’ve done a lot of thinking about the answers to these questions and thought that it might help you to hear the answers. Maybe it will help your own headaches.

A Perfect Storm

Once I started analyzing what was going on this time, I realized that I had a perfect storm situation going on: several triggers were converging at once.

A “Silent” Sinus Infection

When nothing else seemed to be working, I started suspecting that something even MORE was going on. The last time none of my usual headache relieving tricks worked, I had a sinus infection. I asked my doctor to check. Sure enough, my right sinuses were infected and blocked.

I call this a “silent” infection because I never had a cold, runny nose, cough, fever, or any other indication that I was sick. All I had was a killer headache, and some pressure around my eyes and cheekbones. I never would have suspected a sinus infection if it weren’t for my long history of getting them!

I got a round of antibiotics to fight off the infection, along with several vitamins and supplements to help boost my immune system. That was the first turning point for my migraines.

As a side note, around 10 years ago I had an ENT scope the right side of my nose to check for anything unusual (polyps or whatever). He didn’t find anything. He also didn’t mention that I have a deviated septum to the right.

What’s interesting about this is that my sleep doctor, Dr. Scott Fromherz from Westside Sleep Center, pointed this out to me in my initial consultation with him just this month. Hmmm. Think that might be why I get frequent sinus infections… and usually on the right side?

Barometer Body

During this same time, the weather here in the Pacific Northwest was going crazy. All in one day we had rain, hail, blue sky, wind, and more blue sky. For those of us who are sensitive to changes in the barometer, that was a nightmare! I found myself saying over and over, “I don’t care if we have six more weeks of winter, as long as the weather decides what it’s doing and stays steady!” 

Check out this graph* I found of the barometric pressure during April and May 2012 (top). For comparison’s sake, the graph on the bottom is from January and February 2012. Notice that in April and May we had huge ups and downs, where in January and February we had smaller ones. Yup. That’ll do it!

Barometer readings for April-May 2012

Barometer readings for January-February 2012

In the fibromyalgia group I co-lead, we decided that we want to buy a small island near the equator, where the weather is steady, and all go live there! Want to join us? (grin)

What about you? Are you affected more by the changes in weather? The temperature? Or the humidity? Those seem to be the three big factors that affect those in my group. For me, it is the changing of the weather, that causes all the trouble.

Neck Injury

I was rear-ended at the beginning of September 2011. It seemed like a very minor thing; I had a headache immediately after I was hit, but nothing else major hurt.

However, as I would go throughout my day, small things that wouldn’t normally hurt would turn into big things that hurt a lot. For instance, I can’t work on my computer or read as long as I used to be able to without my neck, shoulders, and upper back tightening up and causing a flare. I even had the left side of my neck go into spasm once while I was driving. That was just plain scary.

My doctor and I would think I was back to “normal” and then I would have a flare up. It’s been really frustrating.

I always knew when it was the car accident injury flaring up because it was on the left side of my neck and back; all my prior flare ups involved the right side.

During April, I was having a particularly bad flare up on the left side. My chiropractor ordered x-rays to see what might be happening—what we might have missed. What we discovered was a little arthritis in my mid-back and neck; some soft tissue damage in my neck; and, most importantly, my atlas (first vertebrae) shifted way over to the right.

When your atlas is shifted as far over as mine was, it causes all sorts of things. First, it gives you a monster headache because it’s pinching your spinal cord. Second, it causes dizziness and nausea because it is pressing specifically on the brainstem. My chiropractor described it as, “messing with the control box of the brain.”

The medulla oblongata, part of the brain stem, is specifically responsible for breathing, blood pressure, digestion, sleep, and your autonomic nervous system. It also controls vomiting. (And yes, my migraines were bad enough that I actually did throw up a few times. Yay.)

Once my chiropractor knew what needed to be adjusted, he went to work shifting my atlas back over to where it needed to be. I felt almost immediate relief from getting that pressure off my spinal cord and brain stem. The nausea started to dissipate and the intensity of my headaches lessened.

Undiagnosed Sleep Disorder

The last part of my “perfect storm” was something I just found out about. Two weeks ago, I had a sleep study over at Westside Sleep Center (who I highly recommend, by the way). It turns out that I’ve been waking up an average of 44.8 times per hour at night!

Here’s the kicker though—it is not due to traditional sleep apnea; I do not stop breathing. In fact, I only had one actual apnea (only stopped breathing one time) during my whole study. That means the other gazillion times were due to something else: Upper Airway Resistance Syndrome (UARS).

UARS is much more subtle than sleep apnea. With sleep apnea, anyone who watches you sleep knows you have an issue: you snore, stop breathing, struggle for breath, end up gasping, etc.

With UARS, you may or may not snore (I don’t very much), and you don’t stop breathing or gasp for breath. You do, however, have a hard time breathing. It’s just that your brain wakes you up before it gets bad enough that you stop breathing or your blood oxygen levels drop.

Imagine that you start off the night with a full throat-worth of air coming in. As you relax into sleep, your airway gradually closes down until you’re breathing through the equivalent of a coffee stirrer straw. It gets really hard to suck in air. You’re still getting some air, just not very much.

Eventually, your brain wakes you up so that you take a full, deep breath… and the process starts all over again—44.8 times per hour in my case!

UARS causes all sorts of issues because it is depriving your body of needed sleep and healing time: migraines, low thyroid, high blood pressure, fatigue. And get this: studies have been done linking UARS to fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome!

In another couple of weeks, I’ll be going back to Westside Sleep Center to get a CPAP machine and I cannot wait! These few weeks of waiting have been so long, knowing that soon I’ll finally be able to get good, restful sleep!

Now that I know what’s going on, it’s obvious to me. No wonder I go to sleep, wake up multiple times during the night (at least 3-5 that I know of!), and wake up tired. I’ve always wondered how I could go to bed fine and wake up with a raging headache. Well, this explains all that!

Action Steps

As I said in Part 1, it would make me feel better to know that all my pain helped you avoid some! I encourage you to learn from my recent pondering. Here’s some ways that you can do that:

  1. If you haven’t tried keeping a headache diary, start there. You may discover patterns that are very revealing. Perhaps you always get a headache when you eat certain foods, don’t get enough sleep, at certain times of the year, etc. It will also help you know when something is out of the ordinary.
  2. If sinus issues plague you, consider having a specialist check that out. You may have something going on that you don’t know about, like I did.
  3. If you’ve been in a car accident recently, seek treatment! It’s your right. I highly recommend seeing a good chiropractor and would be happy to give you a referral or help you find one. Treatments due to a car accident are covered under your car insurance policy and not your health insurance. Talk to your insurance agent for more info on your coverage, but usually it doesn’t cost you a penny!
  4. Anyone with fibromyalgia or CFS should have a sleep study done by a good sleep doctor. If you’re here in Portland, the only doctor I recommend is Dr. Scott Fromherz at Westside Sleep Center.

Thank you for chatting with me the other day. It’s so great to talk with someone who has dealt with fibromyalgia for so long. Thanks again for your encouragement and support. — BB

“Human brain xray”, © www.istockphoto.com / Jezperklauzen. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
* Barometric pressure charts from wunderground.com.
Tami Stackelhouse



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    1. Thanks, Laureen! My hope is that all I’ve gone through will help someone else. =) I look forward to hearing more from you.

  1. Tami,
    Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and the different things that have worked for you 🙂 I also found something else that helped me recently when my headaches got so bad I couldn’t stand them any longer — I tried taking Hyland’s Migraine Relief tablets (dissolving 1 to 2 on the top of the tongue), within 30 minutes it took the edge off my headache and within an hour or two it was gone (last night I had to repeat 1 tablet about 5 hours later because a headache came back — I think my neck is “out of wack” right now — but when I woke up this morning, the headache was gone). These tablets are more naturopathic, so I don’t seem to have many GI symptoms with them.

    1. Wow, Jojo! Thanks for a new thing to try. 😉 I’ll definitely check that out. I’ve been thinking I need to write up a new post (Part 3?) that talks about all the things I’ve learned since the last one…

  2. Thanks for the post Tami. My wife gets many headaches and migraines and after I read your part 1 post she tried acupuncture. Her headaches haven’t completely stopped but they have been getting much better and less often. Thanks again!

    1. You’re so welcome! I’m glad the idea helped. I need to write a part 3. I’ve learned lots of other natural options for treating headaches that have been helpful. I’ll post an update here when I get part 3 done. In the meantime, feel free to contact me if you want more info.

  3. I often get sick with these things . I don’t know why but it’s really getting on my nerve.

    thanks for sharing 🙂


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